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Gin and Jenever

Gin and jenever, often considered to be historical siblings in the world of spirits, have etched distinct paths across time, carving out unique spaces in the cultural and social fabric of society. The juniper-flavoured journeys of these two spirits encompass a rich tapestry of history, tradition, and modern reinvention, standing as both testament and tribute to Europe's diverse distilling heritage.

Jenever

Jenever, also known as genever or Holland gin, is the forebear of modern gin and hails from the Netherlands and Belgium. Its origins can be traced back to the 16th century when it began as a medicinal elixir. Distilled from malt wine and infused with juniper berries, which were believed to have healing properties, jenever was the remedy of choice for various ailments. The spirit was hearty, rich, and malty, much different from the clear, crisp gins we are familiar with today.

There are two main types of jenever: 'oude' (old) and 'jonge' (young), which do not denote age but rather the distilling techniques and ingredients used. Oude jenever must contain at least 15% malt wine, though it can go as high as 50%, and up to 20 grams of sugar per litre. Jonge Jenever has a maximum of 15% malt wine and 10 grams of sugar per litre. Both styles must have a juniper flavour as the predominant note, but oude is often smoother, with a slightly sweet and aromatic complexity.

Gin

The story of gin begins with jenever's journey to Great Britain in the 17th century. English soldiers fighting in the Thirty Years' War were given jenever to bolster morale before battle, a practice that gave rise to the term "Dutch courage." Over time, British distillers adapted the recipe, creating a drier spirit that suited the English palate. The Gin Craze of the 18th century saw the drink's popularity explode, with the resulting social problems leading to a series of legislative actions known as the Gin Acts.

Modern gin has evolved to become a lighter, more refined spirit, often categorised as London dry gin, although it does not have to be made in London. The hallmark of a London dry gin is that all flavours must be introduced during the distillation process, with no artificial flavours or colours added post-distillation. It's a style defined by its crisp juniper taste, with subtle notes of citrus and spice and a clear, clean finish.

Botanical Alchemy

The essence of both gin and jenever is derived from their botanicals. Juniper is the cornerstone, but a plethora of other botanicals, such as coriander, citrus peels, angelica root, and cardamom, are also commonly used. The skill in crafting these spirits lies in the delicate balance of these ingredients, with each distillery having its own closely guarded recipes.

In the case of jenever, the malt wine base provides a rich, grainy backdrop that carries the botanicals, giving the spirit a robust, often slightly savoury flavour profile. Gin, particularly the London dry style, uses a neutral grain spirit as its canvas, allowing the crispness of the juniper and the nuances of other botanicals to shine through more directly.

Cultural Renaissance and Cocktail Culture

Both gin and jenever have experienced a cultural renaissance in recent years. Gin, especially, has undergone a resurgence, with a new wave of craft distilleries experimenting with local botanicals and unique production methods. The rise of gin bars and gin-focused cocktails has reignited interest in the spirit, celebrating its versatility and capacity for expression.

Jenever, too, is enjoying a revival, particularly in its native lands. Its unique taste profile has caught the attention of spirit enthusiasts and bartenders looking for depth and originality in their creations. From classic jenever-based cocktails like the Dutch Negroni to modern interpretations, the spirit is finding new audiences.

Sipping and Savoring

Enjoying gin or jenever is an experience that harks back to their storied pasts. Traditional jenever is often sipped neat or with a little water, served at room temperature to appreciate its full-bodied flavour. It's also a cultural experience to drink it from a tulip-shaped glass, which is filled to the brim in the Dutch 'kopstootje' tradition, to be sipped cautiously at first to prevent spilling.

Gin, meanwhile, has found its fame in cocktails, the most famous being the martini and the gin and tonic. Its versatility also makes it suitable for a wide array of mixers and garnishes, each combination unlocking different facets of the gin's character.

Sustainability and Innovation

As consumers become more environmentally conscious, gin and jenever producers are embracing sustainability. From sourcing local botanicals to employing green distilling techniques, the industry is innovating to reduce its environmental footprint.

Gin and jenever, each with a distinct personality, share a common lineage that continues to evolve. As they navigate the complexities of modern tastes and environmental concerns, these spirits not only embody the essence of their history but also the spirit of innovation. Whether savoured neat or mixed into a refreshing cocktail, gin and jenever offer a sense of connection to a deep and flavourful tradition that invites discovery and delight with every sip.

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